Do You Dominate Meetings? How to Step Back and Let Others Have a Voice
By Tracy Kite, author of Love to Lead (£14.99, Panoma Press)
August 14 2018 - We all have a love-hate relationship with meetings and there is much written about how to do it 'right'. Regardless of whether you feel you need to sit, stand or manage your agenda fastidiously, HOW you run your meeting makes all the difference. Before you read on, reflect for a moment about your own meetings. Would you know if you were dominating them? Does it even matter?
I would suggest it matters greatly! A meeting is your opportunity to create a cohesive team, who are all pulling in the same direction, to the same core values and with the same outcomes in mind. What leader doesn't want that? Do it wrong, and you close down creativity, rapport and relationships and the opportunity to use this time to create excellence in your team. Meetings can be exciting platforms for innovation, growth and development if we do it right; a collaborative hothouse of ideas and thinking, providing they aren't dominated by the opinions and agenda of one person.
We all know managers who love the sound of their own voice - they sit in meetings and dominate the conversation, completely oblivious to the frustrations of those around them. The bulk of time allocated is them 'talking at' the people attending, to get across their message and secure agreement for that. The input of others is limited to cursory sign off and five minutes for 'Any Other Business' at the end.
Incessant talking by one person inhibits thinking, reflection and productivity. So how about you stop talking and start working towards a creative, thoughtful and dynamic meeting space instead? People need safety to explore their own thinking and actions; learn to think creatively about what is and what might be; develop skills to tackle issues and problem-solve; set appropriate and stretching objectives for themselves; challenge deeply rooted belief systems which inhibit learning and growth; and be supported to act. None of these things will happen if you dominate the meeting.
If you can stop talking, you will give yourself chance to create several things. A shift from relentless information giving, to a series of well-placed questions and observations is first. You can give lengthy reports up front to the meeting, to ensure relevant information is disseminated. This gives time for the important interaction in the meeting. The ability to remain quiet and interject only to ask an 'elegant' question, listening attentively to the answer and considering this thoughtfully, is a measure of a mature, highly skilled leader. The ability to question well is a skill which must be learned and practised. In western culture, particularly in business, most of our conversation is designed to persuade others to listen to our opinions and think the same things that we think. Therefore, the ability to ask questions is an intense shift in the core reason for conversing with others. Stop trying to convince others to think what you think. Take a risk and actually seek to understand what they REALLY think.
The ability to ask questions grows with experience and practice - much practice! To ask great questions, the questioner must first come from a place of curiosity - an in-built interest in the people present, what they have to say and in the conversation itself. The creation of environments in which people can think, reflect, plan, review, problem solve and make decisions with creativity is your goal.
Listening is the second. Have you ever wondered whether listening and hearing are the same thing? I would suggest they aren't, because for most of the time, we only pay the briefest attention to what people are saying. However, to really get the best from your team, you must aim to do less talking and more listening. Properly hear what people have to say and try not to spend your time convincing them to agree with you. This is the crux of innovation and creativity in meetings. Listen attentively and accept what is said as a genuine attempt to positively influence the way forward. Listen attentively and with great care.
Great communication is the third. When I've researched how managers would choose to be communicated with, they normally say with respect, calmly, concisely, honestly, factually and with due regard that the conversation is happening between two (or more) adult human beings. For me, good communication and great meetings always sits on a bedrock of good manners. This includes the notion that everyone has the right to an opinion and to voice that opinion - provided it is voiced with good manners.
Good communication has respect at its core and it most definitely does not flow from power-driven, ego-focused perspectives. Poor communication tends to be one-sided, manipulative or controlling rather than inclusive and collaborative and is delivered without good manners. Even very senior leaders identify that they want their line managers to communicate with them quietly, calmly, with a level of respect for reciprocal dialogue and discussion of differences of opinion. The poorest forms of communication are identified where managers raise their voice at others in the meeting and are derogatory or humiliating in their communication. The poorest managers are those who think shouting at others is acceptable in business. Anyone who feels the need to shout at others full stop, let alone in a meeting, reflect an exceptionally low level of leadership skill - one where good communication skills are totally absent.
Unfortunately, popular TV shows such as 'The Apprentice' have led us to believe that ruthless, aggressive and back-stabbing behaviours are necessary to get business done or be respected as a business leader. They are not! These behaviours simply make good watching and whilst they imply that manners, respect and care in the workplace are somehow soft and unbusinesslike, I would argue that they are fundamental skills. If you want to run a great meeting, your days of domination must be firmly in the past.
About the author
Tracy Kite is author of Love to Lead (£14.99, Panoma Press). She has many years of experience in the design, delivery and implementation and evaluation of learning and leadership development programmes. Her work is focussed on achieving strategic and operational leadership excellence and a defined return on investment for organisations.